The TV presenter and chief scout, Bear Grylls, has said that the Scout movement must learn about the failings of Robert Baden-Powell, who has been linked to the Nazis and the Hitler Youth programme.
Writing in the Telegraph, Grylls said the movement must see and acknowledge its founder’s history. “Baden-Powell may have taken the first step in creating Scouting, but the journey continues today without him. We know where we came from but we are not going back,” he said.
Grylls, who became the youngest ever chief scout when he was appointed in 2009 at the age of 34, praised Baden-Powell for bringing young people together “to learn how to celebrate their differences, to love and protect the outdoor world, to serve communities, and to be empowered with skills for life”, but insisted the Scouts needed to evolve.
He also expressed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that he stood wholeheartedly with the “righteous anger unleashed by the killing of George Floyd”.
“Together we must all do what we can to right the awful injustices that BAME communities live with every day,” he wrote.
His comments came after a row over whether a statue of Baden-Powell on Poole Quay in Dorset should be removed over his links to the far right.
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council in Dorset had announced the statue would be temporarily removed for its own protection after it was listed on a website of targets for protesters following the toppling of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.
The removal, however, was cancelled after a crowd of people, many in Scout uniform, stood around the statue to prevent it being taken down. The council decided instead to board up the monument and said it would remain as a fixture on Poole Quay.
A petition to keep the statue, which was installed in 2008 and overlooks Brownsea Island, where Baden-Powell established the first Scout camp, has garnered more than 36,000 signatures. It was one of 60 statues listed on the “Topple the Racists” hit list, which says Baden-Powell “committed atrocities against the Zulus in his military career and was a Nazi/fascist sympathiser”.
MI5 files declassified in 2010 show that Baden-Powell was invited to meet Hitler after holding discussions about building closer ties with the Hitler Youth programme. Baden-Powell has also been accused of holding racist and homophobic views.
Grylls addressed the controversy over the statue directly in his article. He wrote: “This last week, people have expressed much confusion and anger at the possible removal of a statue of Lord Baden-Powell in Poole.
“To me, and many Scouts, Brownsea Island is a reminder of that great Scouting vision that has since helped so many young people gain vital, life-enhancing skills.
“It’s right we take time to listen, to educate ourselves and reflect on our movement’s history. We need the humility to recognise there are times when the views and actions from our Scouting’s past do not always match the values we live by today. We must learn, adapt and improve.”